Video Installation, 5.13 mins, HD Video, 2019. Longer version being prepared for premiere during Manifesta 13 in Marseilles, 2020
In this true story, the death of the whale leads the people of the small village it beached in to relearn the customary ways of taking out her bones and curing them to make Taonga/sculptures that in turn tell the history of their relationships. While her flesh is too toxic to be consumed as it was when the Pacific Ocean was cleaner, her soft bones are also used to fertilize the kauri tree that is dying. The whale thereby lives on in the healthy trees and tribal meeting house, which keeps their oral histories alive.
This is a short prelude to a larger project in a particularly momentous context, because this community has just won a campaign to have their valuable material culture that was looted in the scientific raid by Captain Cook, returned to them. It is in the context of this political agency that the whale is a sign, that from the tragic legacy of colonialism, new Taonga (cultural treasures) can be made. This is part of healing the colonial wound, and it is the wounds deep on Te Haa Kui o Tangaroa’s body that you see as hear Jody Toroa tell her story. It is a work of ecofeminism made by a group of women and is about the conflict at the core of the environmental crisis. On one hand – life, like the whale in this film – is dying because of pollution. On the other, people of the ocean, like this Maori community, have agency in turning these tragedies into cultural life, and finding a way of moving forward by honouring the dead and campaigning for a better political future.
Comissioned by TBA21–Academy’s ‘The Current II’ Convening ‘Phenomenal Ocean’, Venice Sept 2019. See Ocean Archive entry